New preconception tests could predict your child’s risk of common illnesses

The same techniques that geneticists use to predict these diseases can also be used to predict characteristics such as intelligence or adult weight. For now, Orchid is focused on providing disease risk reports to parents, but Genomic Prediction of New Jersey is already screening embryos for “intellectual disability.”

Gabriel Lázaro-Muñoz, a bioethicist and lawyer at Baylor College of Medicine who has studied polygenic risk scores, says the ability to screen and select embryos for a wide range of traits turns into eugenic territory. “We need to have a serious conversation about how to use this technology in our society,” he says.

Negative attitudes toward mental illness are already pervasive, and polygenic risk testing may further stigmatize these conditions. The idea that it is possible to choose whether or not to reduce a future child’s risk of such conditions puts a lot of pressure on parents, he says. Beyond the issue of mental illness, should parents be able to choose their “smartest” embryo?

And even if couples wanted to pursue polygenic screening, the expense could be prohibitive. Orchid has not publicly released the cost of its testing, but a source said MIT Technology Review that he charges $ 1,100 for his relationship. (Orchid did not respond to multiple interview attempts.) While the company offers a financial aid program for couples who can’t afford it, there is always the price of IVF to consider. An IVF cycle costs $ 12,000 to $ 17,000 and getting pregnant often takes multiple cycles.

“It’s reproduction for the rich,” said Laura Hercher, genetic counselor and research director in human genetics at Sarah Lawrence College. “What they seem to be saying is that anyone who can afford it should do IVF.”

Indeed, in a podcast interview, Siddiqui suggested that more couples should use IVF to choose their healthiest embryos.

Hercher and others wonder if this is the best use of polygenic risk scores. “Are we comfortable saying, ‘Let the market decide what we want to test embryos for’?” Hercher asks. “Or is it time to step in and say, ‘Are all uses of this justified? “”

Save a life

This market for this technology is driven by parental demand, and for some, knowing the genetic risks their child faces could be a godsend.

Laura Pogliano says a test like Orchid’s could have helped her better support her son Zac, who was initially diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder as a teenager in 2009. As his symptoms worsened, doctors ultimately determined that he suffered from schizophrenia. Zac died of heart failure in 2015, at age 23 (about 50% of sudden death in schizophrenia are of cardiovascular origin.)

Pogliano says that if she had known about her son’s risk before he was born, she could have looked for the first signs and treated him sooner. Symptoms of schizophrenia – hallucinations, delusions, confused speech, and disorganized thoughts – usually start to appear in your 20s, but changes in the brain can begin several years earlier.

She says Zac’s illness blinded her family: “With schizophrenia, you think you have a healthy child, but you never have. The brain has been preparing for this disease for years.

Pogliano says she would have raised her son differently if she had known he was at high risk. She would have been more vigilant about her use of alcohol and marijuana, which can alter the nervous system and trigger psychosis in people with schizophrenia.

She hopes screening for schizophrenia will one day become routine. It’s different from guessing the risk of diseases like heart disease, breast cancer or Alzheimer’s disease, she says: these diseases appear much later in life, but parents have the option of making a real difference in their children’s lives if they know their risk for schizophrenia. .

“Designer babies are not the point,” she says. “All parents want is a path to health for their children.”

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